LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – A man trying to help a lost toddler ended up becoming a victim when the parents mistook him for a child predator.
On Saturday, June 24, the Lakeland Police Department responded to a disturbance at the Southwest Sports Complex.
During a game, a 2-year-old child got separated from her parents.
A citizen who was at the at the game visiting with a few friends noticed the young girl wandering by herself and believed that she was lost. The citizen attempted to ask the girl where her parents were and walked with her in hopes she could point them out. At least one independent witness stated they observed the citizen walking with the child trying to help find her parents.
The parents were alerted by bystanders that the citizen was walking toward a playground and feared that the citizen was attempting to kidnap the child. Three men, including the child’s father, found the man. The father admitted to WFLA that he punched the man several times as his friend grabbed the child.
“I saw this man with my daughter in his hands walking toward the parking lot. What would you do?” the father asked.
Police officers thoroughly investigated this incident, interviewed witness and based upon their investigation, determined no crime was committed. The citizen does not have a criminal history and officers verified that he was there visiting friends, who happened to be off-duty deputies.
The man also declined to have charges filed against the father.
After the incident, family members and friends of the family of the child took to social media and shared the man’s photo, Facebook page, and his business, calling him a child predator.
Lakeland Police Sgt. Gary Gross warned people from posting and even sharing information before they know it is accurate.
“Posting false information on Facebook could cause a defamation of character claim and those posting false information could be held libel. Be careful about what you post on social media so as not to victimize an innocent person. Before posting information on matters such as this, we encourage people to identify the source and the validity of such claims before sharing them,” Gross said. “One person today called the Lakeland Police Department speaking with a supervisor to get the correct information. If at any time you have a concern on an incident we investigated, please feel free to call the Department at 863-834-6900.”